Just as the Jets are closing in on getting back some key players on offense, they may be without their most important piece.
Running back Le’Veon Bell and rookie wide receiver Denzel Mims are eligible to come off injured reserve this week. Deep threat Breshad Perriman also may return from an ankle injury that sidelined him for two games.
But if they’re able to play Sunday against the Cardinals, it might be Joe Flacco running the offense instead of Sam Darnold.
That’s the way the Jets’ season has gone, and many of their other seasons for that matter.
The Jets are still seeking their first win, and they have been waiting to get their starting offense together. When they do, that’s when the clock on Adam Gase will begin ticking a little faster.
Gase’s job security will continue to be week-to-week. Ownership wants to see how the offense looks when it’s fully restored, or at least close to it. Now they may have to wait another week or more depending on how quickly Darnold’s sprained right shoulder heals.
The Jets (0-4) have been off since their loss last Thursday to Denver when Darnold was injured in the first quarter. They return to practice on Wednesday, which is when they said they will update Darnold’s status.
Darnold wants to play, but it would be surprising if he does, all things considered. The Jets are winless and haven’t done a good job of protecting their quarterback, even with a revamped offensive line.
With left tackle Mekhi Becton’s status for Sunday's game also uncertain because of a shoulder injury that forced him to leave the last two games, it would not be wise to risk any further injury to the franchise quarterback.
That doesn’t mean the Jets should just throw Flacco out there either, especially since he’s coming off neck surgery in the spring. But he’s the most experienced of the Jets' four quarterbacks behind Darnold.The other three are rookie James Morgan, Mike White and David Fales.
Flacco should be able to handle himself better against an Arizona defense that is tied for the eighth-most sacks in the NFL. If the Jets get some of their weapons back, particularly Bell, it will open up parts of the offense that haven’t been there for Darnold over the last three games.
"It’d be huge to be able to have a guy like that, a playmaker like that," Darnold said. "It’d be awesome. We’ve missed Le’Veon these couple of weeks. It’d be great to have him back."
The former Pro Bowl back was injured in the first half of the Jets’ Week’ 1 loss at Buffalo. Bell was held as he went out for a pass, fell and landed awkwardly. Bell has played just 32 snaps and has eight touches total.
The Jets expected Bell to have a big season, and talked about using him more in the passing game. As a Jet, Bell hasn’t looked like the player he was with the Steelers. But he’s still someone defenses have to be aware of, which opens things up for others.
Injuries at the skill positions have really hurt the Jets, who are tied with the Giants for last in total offense and rank ahead of only their MetLife co-tenants in points scored.
The Jets’ expected starting offense has not taken one snap together. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder missed two games. Perriman has only been in on 76 snaps. Mims hasn’t played one yet.
Gase has been unable to design something to produce more than one offensive touchdown in each of the last three games. Two of those scores were improvised plays on which Darnold showed his ability to throw on the run and to run with the football.
The Jets may be without Darnold for the foreseeable future. But if they get some of their skill players back, Gase should be able to open up his playbook. Even a little would be a sign of progress.